Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

Who Dat on Ch. 12?

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1983-11-20 New Orleans Times-Picayune.jpg


There's a conversation early on in a 20th anniversary "Doctor Who" special.

First character: "Who was that strange little man?"

The second character responds quizzically: "The Doctor?"

First character: "Who?"

Put that all together and you have "Doctor Who," the fey British science fiction series that has developed a rabid following. Though seen here for a relatively brief time, the program has been on for two decades in England, and "The Five Doctors" (Wednesday, 8 p.m. Ch. 12 is a 90-minute special to celebrate the event.

As most viewers know, the series' lead character is cancel simply "the Doctor." He flies through time and apace making the world safe for democracy, or something. and battling outlandish foes by solving braintrust puzzles.

The show opens with what looks like a creaky black-and-white kinescope of TV days gone by "One day I shall come back," says an old man, whose head fills the screen.

The old man is supposed to be the original "Doctor Who," and he is back, as are the other actors who've had the lead.

An intricate storyline has been concocted to bring all the good doctors together. It seems that an arch fiend is assembling the various "regenerations". of Doctor. ("Regeneration" is a complex technical concept, meaning to recast a role.)

Each of the five Doctors gets a full-blown introduction.

The First Doctor, played by Richard Hurndall, is a white-haired. wise-o/d-professor type with a rather sweet face (Hurndall replaces William Hartnell, the real First Doctor, who died a decade ago.) Then there's a guy in a raccoon cost, Patrick Troughton. the Second Doctor, who — with dark hair, old face and Beatle-mop haircut - looks like the Fourth Stooge. Third is a big guy in a big plaid overcoat (Jon Pertwee who resembles Bea Arthur in drag and talks like a wise old uncle.

Fourth is Tom Baker, the familiar, bug-eyed Doctor with the long wool scarf. He wasn't available for this special and so some cutting-room-floor footage of him that makes no sense at all is seen here. It may be a comment on the program that the footage works as well as any other, and the only reason to notice is that, when all the Doctors meet, Baker is absent. Last Is Peter Davison. the youngish blond who dresses like he'd have the title role In "The Boy Friend" and who is perhaps the least outre of the bunch

Each one has a buddy or some peculiar means of conveyance or some other identifying sidekick, and each seems very much his own man

As the story develops. the High Council has enlisted the aid of the evil Master to contart the various regenerations of the Doctor, to save the world from an unseen villain who's even worse than most. On some kind of game board the enemy moves around miniatures of the Doctors that resemble Viennese bronzes.

The storyline gets terribly complex, of course and various characters are not as they appear, and you have to listen carefully to find out all the secrets along the way. The payoff comes when four of the five Doctors unite and battle evil and (surprise!) win.

This viewer frankly has never understood the appeal of the "Doctor" series, and this episode may explain some of the allure.

There's a lot of borrowing — some exploded machinery that has a death wriggle like John Carpenter's "The Thing," some "Alice in Wonderland" whimsy including one attributed direct quote), vocal echo chambers like Darth Vader, and costuming for the High Council that's straight from Buster Crabbe's "Flash Gordon." With eclectic sources, virtues of the originals lend to rub off on the imitator

The look is ordinary. The special effects aren't special (flying triangles and laser beams that just look painted on), there's stagy artifice to everything and sets and costumes could be left over from mad Mod. The viewer must find his own intrigue. Characters reveal objects that are "the seal of the High Councils' and -the black scrolls of Mumbly peg," and were supposed to be impressed and fascinated. There's a whole lexicon of words and phrases.

Everything becomes a puzzle and the viewer is constantly trying to guess what's what. We're presented a riddle "To lose is to win and who shall win, shall lose". It's as if we are playing a game and must discover the rules as we go along.

The puzzle business can even seem like a cheap trick. Told that traversing a mine field if easy as pie, it's not tough to turn pie into pi. But once we know that, there seems to be no real application of the mathematical formula -- it's just gibberish.

Despite all that, there's a majesty in this the fate of the world hanging in the balance and wit, and a flight of fancy. We keep getting allusions to things we'd understand if we watched even seek. And that, dear friends, is one way TV gets us to watch every week.

"The Five Doctors" should put Whoies in seventh heaven, and the rest of us get a chance to sit bark and wonder how they got there.

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  • APA 6th ed.: (1983-11-20). Who Dat on Ch. 12?. The New Orleans Times-Picayune .
  • MLA 7th ed.: "Who Dat on Ch. 12?." The New Orleans Times-Picayune [add city] 1983-11-20. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: "Who Dat on Ch. 12?." The New Orleans Times-Picayune, edition, sec., 1983-11-20
  • Turabian: "Who Dat on Ch. 12?." The New Orleans Times-Picayune, 1983-11-20, section, edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Who Dat on Ch. 12? | url= | work=The New Orleans Times-Picayune | pages= | date=1983-11-20 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=10 December 2023 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Who Dat on Ch. 12? | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=10 December 2023}}</ref>